There is a continual chattering on the topic of identification, with the ability to prove who you are varying slightly with the type of transaction. There are a series of possible solutions in contention for high value transactions at the moment, but the more numerous low value transactions have not been quite so obvious. However, in the offline ‘traditional’ world there seems to be a growing number of simple, but very workable solutions being put into use that rely on your use of a credit card. There are positives and negatives to this approach, and it’s true that if you steal a credit card then all of these implementations have no defence against you using the stolen card fraudulently.
BUT, and it is a very big “but”, all of these solutions are inherently about low cost everyday transactions where frankly the amounts involved are too small, and the activities too mundane for it to be likely that any thief is going to get too excited by using a stolen card. In any case on notification of being stolen the card would be cancelled and the thief would be risking being caught. It’s the low sums of money involved that make this interesting, the credit card is effectively acting as a digital token issued by a validating authority, the credit card company, and containing the necessary unique details necessary for the transaction.

What does this approach support? A Norwegian colleague brought one example to my attention around travelling by the airport train into Oslo. The passengers swipe their credit cards as they pass through the turnstile onto the train, and again as they get off the train, both are very rapid activities that don’t slow down the speed of passengers passing through the barriers. Around ten minutes later you receive an email receipt for the sum deducted from your credit card which is based on the exact distance travelled. No queuing and no time taken to have to select and buy a ticket! Just one thing required and that is the advanced registration of your credit card with your email address. See:
Its not too dissimilar from the approach being taken for car parking in London, where the credit card is inserted in the car park barrier, or on street parking meter, on arrival and then again on departure. This firmly identifies who has parked, and for how long, plus providing automatic collection of the parking fee, currently the receipt is mailed direct to the street address of the card holder which seems a strangely old fashioned conclusion to the process. All of which is a starting point for why contactless credit cards could really bring about a huge change in the micro to mini payments market. Read this article to see how this could extend to the London parking scheme.
Visa Europe plans to commence UK public trials of the “payWave” contactless cards in London this autumn, allowing users to pay for goods and services simply by touching the card on a special reader, without the need to enter a PIN number. The target market is transactions below 10 euros, and it’s an interesting new contribution to the old debate on micro payments and managed identities.